top of page

Spiritual Practice Now:

Intellectual Network Spirituality
A Trans-Disciplinary Re-Interpretation of Existing Knowledge, Symbolism, and Culture

Systems Science and New 'Netological' Understanding of what We Already Know

  • Profound insights into complex network dynamics exist across non-scientific academic disciplines

  • Systems science, as a trans-disciplinary lens, reveals and affirms this existing knowledge

  • Doing so bridges a long-standing divide between scientific and non-scientific knowledge domains

  • Connecting knowledge domains through systems science provides a broad intellectual basis for a network worldview

  • However, systems science also critiques many dominant assumptions in intellectual culture, just as it does in scientific

  • A network worldview requires us to rethink how we think across all disciplines of knowledge

 Reasoning the 'Irrational' Realities of Emergent Self-Organization and Animating Agency


Logic after Systems Science: Modernity and the Limits of Reductive Certainty

An impulse to establish absolute logical truths runs through the history of philosophical thought in Western culture. In the modern era there have been a variety of challenges to this obsession with 'reductive certainty.' With the refinement of reductive scientific methods for measuring and calculating, from the 1800s onward, many felt that philosophical thought was becoming irrelevant. Why speculate logically about what is real or true when you can confidently quantify, explain, and predict all phenomena by reducing events to exact criteria scientifically? However, just as philosophical reasoning fractured over whether or not self-consistent logic could arrive at absolute truths about existence, so too  has the reductive methodology of science proscribed limits to what it can reduce to definitive description and explanation.

With the science of chaos and complexity, the quest for reductive certainty has reached its limits.  Though this notion is anathema to many scientists, for those who work in these fields it has become an accepted aspect of factual reality. It will take time for this realization to percolate through our culture of science. But it has profound implications for, and applications within, non-scientific disciplines.  Abstract intellectual thought is intrinsically a logical mental activity. That is not to say it is always logically consistent or empirically accurate. But striving for consistent reasoning is a hallmark of academic work. In the non-scientific knowledge domains of the humanities, scholars and researchers strive to investigate, describe, and explain their subjects in rationally defensible ways. However, the aspects of life, society, and culture they study are all expressions of complex adaptive systems. Thus, from the perspective of systems science, those expressions cannot be fully reduced to logically consistent, definitive descriptions and definitions.  With systems science, the quest for complete reductive certainty has failed in both scientific and non-scientific knowledge domains.

The Logic of the Limits of Logical Reduction

And yet, that does not mean 'the end of reason.'  In what feels like a mind twisting paradox to our reductive cultural bias, systems science offers 'reasons' for why reductive thought and methods cannot fully penetrate the dynamical 'nether world' of complex system dynamics. Rather than simply negating the validity of reductive methods, systems science applies these methods to demonstrate why they have limits.  Order that results from sequential actions can generally be reduce to exact descriptions, explanation, and prediction. But ordering that arises from chaotic or complex non-linear dynamics emerges from interdependent interactions that simply cannot be sequenced. Logical reduction is profoundly useful--so effective it can reasonably explain why there are dynamical conditions it cannot explain.

Thus systems science is not contradicting the validity of scientific methodology. Nor is it posing a 'radically relativistic' philosophical conclusion that 'truth is relative, never certain.'  Scientific method has shown with confidence that there are dynamical conditions which can be fully analyzed in a progressively logical manner as well as those that cannot.  Similarly, there are strains of thought in the humanities, such as "postmodern philosophy," that deploy rigorously reductive logic to demonstrate that there are limits to definitive certainty in language. It is rigorous logical reasoning that has revealed to us this aspect of reality. In terms of science, this means that there are phenomena that can be represented by, or 'reduced to,' mathematical equations and formulas--including many aspects of complex systems--and those that cannot.          

Logics of Quantification and Qualification

Science has often been distinguished from other knowledge fields by its reliance upon quantification to verify and validate hypotheses about Nature.  This methodology can lead one to assume that if a phenomena cannot  be measured and calculated mathematically it is not real.  The explanatory and predictive power of scientific methodology has influenced many non-scientific disciplines to adopt quantitative methods as well.  But from sociology, anthropology, and psychology to philosophy and the arts, quantitative studies end up as the basis for some form of qualitative interpretation. Despite efforts to explain mind, behavior, and culture in quantitative terms that generate reliably predictive conclusions, these obviously fall short. So we are left to 'make sense' of these phenomena through qualitative statements, comparisons, and metaphors.  Again, from a systems science perspective this is reasonable, since such subjects involve the emergent properties of unpredictably self-organizing systems and their network agency.

Thus the challenge of qualification is how to compose it as logically as possible in reference to what can be quantified. Even when poets argue about the 'aptness' of a metaphoric phrase, or artists about the 'genius' of a painting, they are in some way forming logical evaluations in reference to a sense of what is more 'real' or 'actual' relative to what is not.  In so far as the symbolism of literature and art are representations of complex dynamics, of interdependently interactive relationships and their emergent properties of meaning, there is no way to arrive at a complete logical critique or explanation of them. But with systems science as a reference we have a better basis for our logical qualifications. Indeed, this science forewarns us that the interpretation of symbolism, or human behavior for that matter, cannot be ultimately conclusive. This is not to say that in this realm there is 'no truth,' but that there likely many 'truths' and, taken together, these can enhance our logical understand as well as our emotional experience. In regard to complex dynamical phenomena, where quantitative scientific reduction 'leaves off,' we must proceed with reasonably qualification in reference to it.

Logical Spirituality

Students of the world's spiritual and wisdom traditions are familiar with the ways reasoning is involved in 'approaching the mysteries' of mind and spirit. Initiates to these traditions are sometimes provoked to make logical sense of insoluble paradoxes. Or the supposedly logical explanations presented can be circular, even contradictory. That can be a maddening experience for the initiate. But it turns out that the purpose of these 'exercises' is to bring the initiate to a 'point of surrender' in which the logical paradox is experienced not as mere opposition or contradiction but as 'a complex whole.'  Such conundrums include the conflict between being told 'god' is 'this way' or 'that way,' but then, that 'god is ultimately unknowable.'  As a 'spiritual caveat,' this statement can be understood through systems science as a logical orientation to the dynamical mystery of emergent network agency.  It manifests various archetypal characteristics--represented mythically as contrasting  gods and goddesses--but those characteristics are, as such, not the mystery of agency or spirit itself. They tell us qualitatively 'how it behaves' but not quantitatively 'what it is.'

This insight can be extended to much of the thought in the modern knowledge fields of the humanities. It is reasonable to avail ourselves of the reductive methodologies of consistent reasoning and quantitative studies in so far as these are viable. But when we seek to represent the emergent properties of mind, behavior, and culture, we must remember we are dealing with the expressions of network agency--of an ultimately ineffable dynamical mystery. Here, knowingly or not, we enter 'the realm of the spirit.' According to the quantitative evidence of systems science, this is a 'perfectly reasonable' intellectual distinction. 

Re-Uniting the "Two Cultures" of Science and The Humanities through the 'Spiritual Imagination' of Systems Science


There is a percieved 'split' in our contemporary intllectual culture refered to as "the two cultures" of science versus the Humanities--meaning those domains of knowledge not founded explicitly upon scientific method. In this view, some intellects have specialized in scientific conceptions while dismissing all other domains of knowledge, and others have pursued non-scientific disciplines while remaining fundamentally ignorant of scientific knowledge. This simplistic generalization does not describe all, but has significant relevance to the 'state of knowledge' in contemporary society. It involves a long-running antagonism between the 'sides.' The Humanities include study in philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, art, and religion. Many on the 'side' of science, regard these areas of knowledge as irrelevant due to their lack of scientific foundations. Many on the humanities side regard scientists as 'culturally illiterate.'  The dynamically new worldview of systems science provides a bridge over this 'divide' in knowledge domains by empirically validating much of the logical conception and symbolic imaginaiton associated with the humanities. This could be called a 'restoration' of the old notion of "natural philosophy," a term applied to previous eras when science was not regarded as separate from other modes of study.

Most importantly, this re-unification has a spiritual aspect.  With the scientific validation of the concept of mysteriously emergent agency, or spirit, it becomes possible to engage many aspects of the humanities as parts of a new 'culture of the sacred'--of a worldview that regards emergent network agency as the fundamental 'force of creation' in the biosphere and thus 'of the utmost significance.' But this re-inetgration of science and humanities is inevitably threatening to many whose carreers have become entwined in their oppostion. Aspects of thought in the humanities would have to be crituqued through the concepts of systems science, and many scientists' assumptions about the preeminence of mechanistic cause and effect would have to be surrendered to both the evidence for mysteriously emergent agency and the related validity of much non-scientific thought. The principle of "intellectual honesty," in which one subordinates one's arguements to all available information that has a factual or logical basis, rather than 'cherry picking' to support one's own assumptions, must be rigorously applied by all parties.

Imaginal Reality--The Logically Constrained, Emotional Validation of 'Extra-Ordinarily' Realistic Symbolism

In this notion of re-uniting scientific and non-scientific aspects of our 'culture of knowledge,' the intellectual imagination brings scientific objectivity into relation with the emotionally driven aspects of human behavior as represented in literature and the arts. Once the implications of systems science are connected to the functions of art and myth as 'ways of knowing' complex dynamics, it becomes logical that some aspects of reality can only be fully appreciated through symbolic imagination. Metaphoric symbolism, whether as allegory, parable, extra-ordinary representation, or spiritual personification, can exert an emotionally compelling sense of paradoxical interplay and complexity. It can make 'invisible dynamics' somehow tangible to the human mind. That inevitably requires a kind of 'suspension of disbelief' relative to our normative experience of reality as predictably consistent cause and effect. To 'imaginally experience the strange reality' of a emergently self-animating world in an emotionally compelling manner, we must submit our ordinary experience of 'how the world works' to a profound challenge. 

With systems science, the ways complex dynamics, self-organization, and emergent network agency are represented in symbolism is now subject to some basic empirical evaluation. That is, how we now imagine these phenomena through symbolism, and how we interpret that symbolism, can logically be guided by the insights of systems science.  This is a distinctly different empirical reference than that provided by deterministic physics. The imaginal reality of symbolic experience can now be constrained by systems science to maintain awareness that our symbols might give us a better sense of how complex dynamics and emergent self-organization 'come into being' and generate most of the complex order in the biosphere through network agency, but that those symbols cannot literally define this fundamental dynamical mystery.

Intellectual Network Spirituality: Understanding the Science by Engaging Non-Scientific Modes of Complex Knowing

The abstract concepts of systems science become more understandable when engaged through intellectual insight from other modern domains of knowledge. Aspects of thought and research in psychology, philosophy, history, anthropology, and the aesthetics of art can now be seen as intuitions of systems science. These can be correlated through the scientific concepts forming 'netological' analysis and become an essential part of a new, trans-disciplinary intellectual mode of understanding network agency. That effectively makes them a fpr, pf spiritual practice. However, in the process of re-considering existing intellectual thought through the lens of systems science, many concepts and theories will also become discredited from the science's empirical perspective. Thus there is likely to be considerable resistance to such a re-evaluation. 

Philosophical Network Spirituality

Philosophy has long grappled with describing 'how the world works.' with explaining cause and effect. Systems science puts these arguments in a new frame of reference. When we re-read philosophers from Aristotle to Goethe, Hegel, and Schopenhauer from this new perspective, much of their thought that has been dismissed or remained obscure to us can be seen as intuitions about network dynamics and agency. Such a shift also applies to more recent philosophical thought. Some examples:

Free Will: There is an extensive history of debate in philosophy over the existence and operations of "free will." It is variously defined, dismissed, and affirmed. Much of this discourse focuses upon a notion of "determinism" drawn from scientific reduction. Since systems science shows that determinism as understood through the laws of physics does not explain complex systems dynamics and emergent agency, there is now a  concepts novel critique of these arguments that gives us a way to extract from them the more empirically logical insights.

Semiotics: Originally an effort to understand the way meaning is generated in language, by "semiosis," this area of analysis provides many insights into how feedback works in complex systems by tracking the dynamic interdependencies of word meanings, sentence structure, and usage through concepts such as signs, signifiers, and the signified. A more recent domain of semiotic philosophy is known by the term "biosemiosis." Here it is proposed that life processes are, at their most basic level, semiotic--meaning, the interpretation of data by a system to generate meaningful information which enables that system to differentiate itself from 'others' and to operate within its environment. That can be understood as network information processing that enables network agency. Thus, it is a network's capacity to 'make meaning' which makes life possible, even on the biological level.

Postmodernism: Aspects of what is generally termed postmodern thought include critiques of "meta narratives," meaning definitive, all-inclusive descriptions of the actual or real. Others explore knowledge as a 'cultural production' relative to the biases of any given culture. Such notions are useful in analyzing our cultural resistance to the implications of systems science. Concepts such as "deconstruction" and the "dissemination of meaning among words" provide insight into network dynamics in language.

Psychological Network Spirituality

As psychology is the study of mind, or psyche, it is a discipline concerned with what appears to be the most complex of complex adaptive systems known to science.  Applying the science of self-organization and its emergent agency to this subject is particularly important as an intellectual spiritual practice. In doing so we can better sort out which of the prevalent psychological models and theories appear more apt to the evidence provided by systems science. To know our selves as extremely complex adaptive systems whose agency emerges in each instant from significant disorder is to experience being a manifestation of 'spiritual self-animation.'

Neuroscience: Studies of brain neurology and its relationships to cognitive processes has expanded exponentially. Understanding of how networks of neuropathways form and function provides insight into the ways systems self-organize. Yet for all the research, the thoughts and feelings of our mental systems have not been definitively correlated with the neurophysiology of the brain. Confronting the ever-elusive origins of consciousness in this area of science provides a profound encounter with the emergence of network agency.

Depth Psychology: Psychological theories of "the unconscious" mind date from the early 20th century, begin associated with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in particular. These have long been considered to lack a scientific basis. But with systems science they can be re-considered as apt approaches to theorizing and characterizing the archetypal manifestations of network agency in mental systems.

Sociological Network Spirituality


Studies of human social groups have adopted extensive use of network science.  To view such work as the tracking of emergent agency in social systems is another way to encounter the archetypal manifestations of network agency arising not from a particular biological body with a central nervous system and brain but  from the interactions of many minds--what we might term 'collective spiritual animation.' As such these studies are a kind of 'psychology of social systems.'

Historical Network Spirituality


Historical studies are  vivid context in which to contrast sequentially progressive and concurrently interdependent dynamics in networks. Our cultural tendency has been to regard history as a sequence of events. But when considered 'moment by moment,' it becomes evident that innumerable interactions are influencing each other continually. The ordering of events can then be seen as an emergent property of at least partly chaotic conditions. So here is a field of knowledge well suited to tracking the self-creating emergence of agency or spirit on a grand scale.

Aesthetic Network Spirituality


Studies in the experience of literature and the arts have produced diverse theories and data on how our minds interact with fictions, metaphors, and symbolism. When considered collectively through a systems science lens, these can be considered as mutually amplifying rather than purely competitive. 

bottom of page